Bias by Placement: Intelligent Design Defender Gets Page A13 Treatment

Washington Post staff writer Michael Powell has been covering the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design (ID) federal lawsuit since it opened in September. The challenge was filed by teachers and parents with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The controversy surrounds a single paragraph that teachers were required to read to students alerting them to the existence of the intelligent design critique of Darwinism and suggesting it as an alternative theory which wouldn't be learned in class, but could be researched by the students in their own spare time.

When the trial began in late September, the ACLU went first, bringing their witnesses to the stand. Powell's articles on those testimonies were placed on page A3 on successive days (September 27-28). Now that the trial has progressed to the point where the respondents, the Dover, Pennsylvania school board, is calling its witnesses, and the story centered on the testimony of an ID defender is placed on page A13.

Powell's treatment of the Dover witness, chemist Michael J. Behe, is pretty fair. Powell quotes Behe numerous times, allowing the witness to give his reasoned, scientific opinion. Powell does however use colorful language in his lede, saying Behe launched a "sustained attack" on Darwin's theory, when he "argued that the theory fails to account for the complex biological machinery that scientists find in the corners of the human cell." From where I stand it is the intelligent design folks who are arguing just to have their voices heard and theories argued, whereas the sustained attack is from reactionaries who can't abide a simple statement urging students to keep an open mind and research and criticize competing theories on the origins of life.

Powell's article can be found here.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.